Text and data mining wins crucial Parliament vote

17 Jun 2015 | News
European Parliament’s legal affairs committee backs reform of copyright law to allow text and data mining of academic journals for research, in a vote closely watched by scientists

A key European Parliament vote on recommendations for amending copyright law passed the much-debated text and data mining element of the European Commission’s proposal.

The recommendations would give researchers free rein to use computer programmes to data mine research papers, a practice which to date has been tightly controlled by journal publishers in Europe.

"This report marks a turning point. After decades of introducing new restrictions to protect the material interests of rightholders, this is the strongest demand yet to restore balance in copyright rules and reduce the legal uncertainty that Europeans face when accessing copyrighted works today,” said Julia Reda, a German MEP who was involved in drafting the report, commenting after the vote on Tuesday.

The Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs adopted a non-binding resolution to the European Commission by 23 votes to 2. A thumbs-down from the Parliament would have undermined researchers’ fight to get a deal on the contentious issue.

Although a clause on text and data made it through the Parliament, some advocates were hoping for more ambitious language. 

The final text was neutered, says Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities. "The mandatory exception for text and data mining - which several MEPs suggested in their amendments - has now been reduced to the need ‘to properly assess the enablement of automated analytical techniques for text and data’.”

The measure is only advice to the European Commission - the Parliament will not become an active co-legislator until the Commission releases its formal proposal — but Tuesday’s vote could boost text and data mining advocates over the long-run.

The final text voted on by the committee will now go the parliamentary assembly, where all 751 MEPs will vote on the resolution during the next parliamentary session in Strasbourg on 9 July.

In its digital single market strategy launched early in May 2015, the Commission recognised that copyright regulation relating to text mining should be harmonised across Europe.

Text mining has become another front for the open access movement, and one that threatens to significantly disrupt the core business of publishing companies, which are campaigning for the freedom to self-regulate the market. In recent months, Reda has published records of meetings with lobbyists representing Reed Elsevier, Springer and the Federation of European publishers.

As things stand, publishers across Europe can claim a right to grant or refuse the mining of their works on the basis of copyright law, EU database protection law, and provisions in intellectual property law. The UK is the only country in Europe that has exempted automated computer crawling from copyright law.

Publishers block data-mining software programmes by default, distributing special licence permissions to academics and university libraries. If copyright law were to include an exemption for researchers, publishers claim intellectual property could be re-sold by unscrupulous researchers and publisher computer systems could be immobilised by the volume of traffic from text miners. 

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up